Indian techie shakes up US broadcasters

It is not every day that US broadcasting giant ABC starts a service similar to a dime-size competitor it took to court earlier.

india Updated: May 20, 2013 02:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

It is not every day that US broadcasting giant ABC starts a service similar to a dime-size competitor it took to court earlier.

The company’s called Aereo and it is threatening to change the way Americans watch television: Viewers pay only for what they want to watch and not for the junk bundled into their plans.

Aereo, backed by media mogul Barry Diller, has already hit headlines not only in the US, but across the world, and has ruffled a few feathers. But founder Chet Kanojia is not perturbed. His motto: Start-ups are like distance-running, after a point, it's about the mind than anything else.

He actually knows a thing or two about start-ups —actually, two — given his past that makes him a serial entrepreneur.

Aereo subscribers get over-the-air channels live, or recorded, through Internet on smart devices for $8 a month against $200 charged by other carriers.

Subscribers to Aereo can stream live broadcasts of TV channels on mobile devices using miniature antennas, each assigned to one subscriber.

Though the service currently covers only three cities — New York, Houston and Boston — the television industry has already begun to fear the worst.

Broadcasters and channels including Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS dragged Aereo to court accusing it of copyright infringement, but lost twice. They haven’t given up, and neither has Aereo.

The company is prepared for more. “It’s all about the mind now,” says Kanojia.

Aereo will also be available in Atlanta after June 24. The expansion will let the service reach an additional 5.3 million consumers in 55 counties in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.

Kanojia came to the US in 1991 after his B Tech in mechanical engineering from Bhopal, where he was born. He came as Chaitanya Kanojis. But he was Chet Kanojia shortly.

He enrolled at Northwestern University for a master's course in computer systems engineering. After finishing the course, “I figured I would be better off working for myself,” says Kanojia. But that wasn’t to happen soon.

Not until 1999, when he founded Navic Networks, a pioneering effort in studying television viewer behaviour and using it in advanced television advertising. Nine years later, he sold it to Microsoft for $230 million.

“But there was no aha moment,” says Kanojia. And he decided to launch Aereo, standing outside a school in Kolkata.

The trick with start-ups, says Kanojia is the timing. “Most failures were ahead of their time. In this case, Americans seemed ready for it.”

Aereo, launched two-and-a-half years ago in New York, first grew on word-of-mouth publicity and then went viral.

He won’t discuss subscription numbers. He relishes the luxury of a private firm’s ability to keep details off the public domain. But that’s not his main thrill.

It's essentially the ability to bring about a change. "You tell me?" he shot back to a question if Aereo had indeed succeeded in changing the world.

First Published: May 19, 2013 23:30 IST